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‘With Eclat': The Athenaeum And The MFA

A statue of Nathaniel Bowditch's (1773-1838), a leading author in Navigation, Astronomy, and Mathematics, is seen inside The Boston Athenaeum Library Monday, Aug. 8, 2005 in Boston. The Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the United States, was founded in 1807 by members of the Anthology Society, a group of fourteen Boston gentlemen who had joined together in 1805 to edit The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review. (AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)

A statue of Nathaniel Bowditch’s (1773-1838), a leading author in Navigation, Astronomy, and Mathematics, is seen inside The Boston Athenaeum Library Monday, Aug. 8, 2005 in Boston. The Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries in the United States, was founded in 1807 by members of the Anthology Society, a group of fourteen Boston gentlemen who had joined together in 1805 to edit The Monthly Anthology and Boston Review. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/AP)

The Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is home to one of the greatest art collections. The Boston Athenaeum is a much smaller, but deeply distinguished, membership library. However, in the mid-1800s, the Athenaeum was the most important art venue in Boston, and the MFA was just an idea.

“The MFA was founded in 1870,” says Hina Hirayama, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Athenaeum. “At the beginning, [the MFA] didn’t have a building of its own, it didn’t have a collection of its own, and it had a very limited financial foundation.”

Hirayama tells the story of how the Atheneum gave birth to the MFA in an exhibition and companion book titled, “With Eclat.”

“Eclat is defined as ‘brilliant success.’ And it is actually a quote from the trustees’ records of the Athenaeum from 1875, and they were discussing how to open the new MFA ‘with eclat.'”

We visited Hirayama at the Athenaeum on Beacon Hill earlier this week. But this isn’t just the story of two cultural institutions. It’s really the story of the relationship between Charles and Edward Perkins, two Boston brothers, and the story of how how an ambitious city sought to change its relationship with the rest of the world through art.

Guest

Hina Hirayama, curator of painting and sculpture at the Boston Athenaeum. Author of “With Eclat: The Boston Athaneum and the Origin of the Museum of Fine Arts”


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